Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

The Male Pheasant

mystery bird in woods

A male ring-necked pheasant runs through the woods as he hears me open the back door, too quick for me to catch more than a glimpse of his gorgeous plumage.  In winter, male pheasants hang out with other males, but in spring, they begin to separate and seek their own territories.  Could this one be considering making his ‘crowing ground’ in my yard?

pheasant feathers and portrait

I wonder if the male relies on his beautiful plumage or his charming personality to attract peahens to his harem. A single male is known to keep as many as a dozen females under his thumb.  A couple of years ago, I saw a male boss several females around the yard, limiting their movements and giving no indication whatsoever of being ‘hen pecked.’

pheasant on snow

A male ring-necked pheasant eating crumbs in the yard earlier this month

In Cow Bay, pheasants are frequently seen crossing roads and hanging out in yards. They seem to thrive here, despite the fact that they’re a non-native oriental species. They enjoy insects, berries and seeds. Their olive green eggs are laid in a nest on the ground and hatch in late spring.

Pheasant tracks on snow

Pheasant tracks on snow


Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

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bird eye view

Boreal chickadees are as shy as their black-capped cousins are friendly. They tend to stay in the inner branches of the spruce trees and seldom linger long enough to allow themselves to be photographed. However, last evening a young one crashed into the front window, providing an opportunity for a close encounter of the sweetest kind.

boreal chickadee face

Though it appeared to be gasping for breath when I first picked it off the ground, it eventually recovered enough for me to place it in a safe spot where its parents (but not local cats or birds of prey) could easily find it.

boreal chickadee

The cement top of the septic cover, which is surrounded by rhododendron bushes, proved a perfect place to set it down.  When I checked it later, the little creature was already moving its head around and looking more alert.  Since it had no outward sign of injury, I left it to God’s care.  I figured He’d be up all night anyhow :)

boreal chickadee chick

By early morning it was gone.  The window is still a concern, but I’ve since discovered that keeping the patterned curtains closed will help deter other birds from crashing into the glass.

front window in summer

This morning I saw two adult Boreal chickadees flitting and chirping among the spruce trees.  Could they have been the parents returning to say everything was fine with their little one?

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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ruffed grouse rufous phase

Ruffed grouse are gorgeous ground birds that have eluded me since I was a child. Though I’d frequently hear them in the woods, I seldom caught more than a fleeting glimpse of them. Even the ones that visited my backyard were so skittish and quick to run off, that I had almost given up taking a photograph of one. Until this past week.

rufous ruffed grouse feathers

The one shown here is in its rufous phase.  Its feathers seem to swirl in a beautiful palette of brown and copper tones, highlighted with white. These birds also have a gray phase.

ruffed grouse walking under balsam fir

Unlike ring-necked pheasants, larger ground birds that act like they own the neighborhood in this neck of the woods, ruffed grouse are quiet, unassuming birds with feathered legs.  They keep to the woods where they blend in wonderfully with the ground cover.  Apparently, they prefer woodlands with second growth, which should make my backyard an ideal habitat.  I wonder if there’s a nest nearby…

Canadian ruffed grouse

Spring has finally arrived here on Flandrum Hill, and with all the activity that takes place in nature at this time of year, it’s a great time to get outdoors.  

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013


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Vulgar Birds

sturnus vulgaris in winter

What makes one creature more vulgar than the next?  Some species, such as sturnus vulgaris, aka European starlings, do a good job of living up to the vulgaris part of their Latin name.  They’ve been an invasive species here in North America since 1890 when 100 of them were released in New York City’s Central Park.  And what could  be more vulgar than guests who’ve overstayed their welcome…

starling with open beak

Good grief! You’d think she’d use a bigger mesh. What does she think we are? Chickadees?

… than noisy, complaining, ungrateful ones that can’t seem to get enough of the little you have to offer.

starling clinging to suet

How can I possibly stick to my diet if she keeps serving up suet??

Although vulgarity is often equated with the manners of the masses, it’s certainly not an uncommon trait among the elite, or at least those who think they are…

sturnus vulgaris

Of course we’re being watched. Paparazzi follow me everywhere.  I’m a chick magnet.

There is nothing new under the sun, and with time, all things grow old.

starling on suet

Is it just me, or is dining on a swinging fat ball not as glamorous as it used to be?

Every moment of every day we have the opportunity to change the quality of our days by changing our outlook.  Regardless of which flock we fly with, a spirit of thankfulness and reverence is available to us all and a perfect remedy to our ‘common’ and ‘vulgar’ attitudes.

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
~ Sarah Ban Breathnach, originally misattributed to John Milton

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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salt marsh trail between first two bridges

The salt marsh can be a nasty place in the winter.  Even on a sunny day, the wind can be harsh and the salt spray biting.  Regardless of the elements, my grandson and I set out on our adventure on New Year’s Eve along the salt marsh trail, determined to make it at least as far as the first bridge.

The trail was icy in spots and the wind was convincing us to turn back with every step past the shelter of the trees.  However, as we approached the end of the Canada Goose bridge, we caught sight of the first of four bald eagles hunting in the marsh.

eagle flying over salt marsh

Inspired to plod on, we forced ourselves forward in order to get a closer look.

eagles in the salt marsh

We caught sight of one on the next bridge.  It too was clearly fighting the wind, clinging to the wooden bridge rail with its mighty talons.  We ignored the pelting salt spray but the wind kept thrashing us about.  It became more and more difficult to just hold onto the camera, let alone take a decent photograph of our subject.

eagle on bridge

Despite the difficulty, we were quite elated to have had such a close encounter with such a magnificent creature.  Doing hard things has its rewards.

an eagle eyeing us from the bridge

Before flying off, the eagle looked directly towards us.   Wow.  We headed back, glad that we had dared to venture out into the marsh on such a windy day.

heading back from the salt marsh

Later at Tim Horton’s, I wondered if the bald eagles were having duck or fish as we enjoyed our soup and coffee .

Happy New Year to all!  May you always find the joy in doing hard things in the year ahead.

All photographs and text copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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Gifts of the Crow

It’s easy to take the crows in our midst for granted.  We see them so often that they eventually fade into the scenery.  They’re in the woods, the yard, the salt marsh, on the roads and at the beach.  Yet I’ve seldom been inclined to fix my gaze upon them, let alone take their photograph.  They’ve always just been part of the background.  Until now.

Gifts of the Crow:  How Perception, Emotion and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans opened my eyes to what remarkable creatures crows truly are.

They possess superior language skills, a proneness to delinquency, a capacity for insight, frolic, passion and wrath, risk-taking, and an awareness that’s well beyond what we might imagine.

Even those among us who would suspect crows of being crafty risk takers would still be surprised to learn that they’ve been seen luring unsuspecting animals onto highways so that these can be feasted upon after becoming roadkill.  They can also recognize individual faces, using that information to get an easy meal or avoid people who might harm them.  They’ve even been known to wreak vengeance with their droppings on vehicles.

Crows may look serious in their black garb, but they engage in play for play’s sake just like us.  Innovative, they’ll also employ tools such as sticks and work together to manipulate squirrels and seagulls to get their food for them.

‘Social Junkies,’ solitary birds will even befriend humans and pets for companionship if they have the opportunity.  Since the authors explain crows’ intelligence by pointing to their relatively large brains, could relatively large souls explain their emotional human-like qualities?  So much of their nature is still a mystery.

I wonder if the crow shown at the top of this post left a gift of one of its feathers for me on the bridge.

The authors make the argument that crows have all the qualities to make wonderful pets.   Due to their many gifts, at the very least, they deserve our respect and attention a little more than we’ve been inclined to give them in the past.

GIFTS OF THE CROW:  How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans  by John Marzluff and Tony Angell
Publication Date: June 5, 2012

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maple buds in spring

Canadian maple buds.  Check. 

coltsfoot in bloom

Coltsfoot.  Check.

junco attacking car mirror

Mating-crazed junco obsessed with its reflection in my car’s mirror.  Check.

chickadee and mourning dove calling from treetops

Chickadee and mourning dove calling from the treetops.  Check.  Check.

crawly creatures under rocks

Creepy crawlies under the garden stones:  Millipede, earthworm, beetle, salamander.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

Nova Scotia slug

Slug.  Check.

red squirrel defending its territory

Red squirrel defending its territory.  Check.

snowshoe hare in april

Snowshoe hare on the lawn.  Check.

periwinkle or myrtle

The first periwinkle of the season.  Check.

Hope rekindled.  Check.



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downy woodpecker drumming

Whether you’re a professional athlete or a parent just trying to keep an active child safe, concussions are a growing concern these days. Post-concussion problems endured by football players and other brain injury survivors are not new.  However, concussions sustained by local hockey wonderkid Sidney Crosby have brought more attention to the potential danger of head injuries over the past year. 

downy woodpeckerRecently, researchers in China decided to answer a question asked by scientists and birdwatchers around the world:  Why aren’t woodpeckers harmed by their head banging?  They discovered that there were three factors that enabled woodpeckers’ brains to survive intact after repeated blows to their heads:

1.  The top and bottom parts of  a woodpecker’s beak are uneven in length, and the longer bottom beak deflects force away from the bird’s brain on impact.

2.  Unlike us, the woodpecker brain is encased in spongy plate-like bones.  These are arranged unevenly around the brain and leave no space between the brain and skull.

3.  A seatbelt-like hyoid bone connects the beak to the skull where it then surrounds the brain.

woodpecker drumming

Together, these factors ensure that the woodpecker’s brain is affected as little as possible  by the constant impact of head banging. 

Unfortunately, even if these factors were incorporated into the design of sports safety helmets, there is no way to get around the fact that human brains are separated from our skulls by a gap that is non-existent in woodpeckers.   And it’s the motion of the brain within this space that would still remain a factor in potential injuries.

So, unless you’re a woodpecker, the best way to avoid head banging injury to your brain is to not bang it in the first place.

For more information, see Why Do Woodpeckers Resist Head Impact Injury:  A Biomechanical Investigation.

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Canada geese may be just barely visible beneath a cover of marsh mist but their morning talk is unmistakable.  Their communication is not just limited to their signature honk but to a medley of sounds as they wake to another day in another marsh.

According to Ducks Unlimited, Canada geese may be only next to humans in their talkativeness.  Greetings, warnings and contentment are all communicated from the time a gosling is still in its shell.

However, as there are some humans who like to talk more than others, there are probably some geese who are also more talkative than the rest.  I wonder if some geese put their heads underwater to get away from the nagging chatter under the pretext of finding food.

geese talking

Don't even think of flying next to her today!

Considering the amount of effort that goes into planning a trip abroad for a large group, it’s probably the communication skills of geese that allow them to be so successful in their migrations year after year. 

Geese are known to share the responsibilities of leadership, especially in flight.  Also, if a member of the flock is injured, two will stay behind to nurse it back to health, rejoining the larger flock together after it recovers.  Any of these actions would require a great deal of planning and discussion.  No wonder they’re so talkative!

Once the geese have breakfast, make their flight plans and leave, quiet returns to the marsh until the next flock arrives to spend the evening.  

For more information about these beautiful and talkative birds, see Facts on Canada Geese at Ducks Unlimited.

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The sun may be lighting up the sky in a spectacular display of color, but there’s another reason why nobody’s sleeping in this morning.  Some mother’s child is upsetting the peace and quiet of the marsh with incessant whining.  Good grief!

Despite its camouflage plumage and the low light, it’s easy to see from where the annoying whining is originating.  I’ve caught this act before.  It’s not unusual to see immature seagulls pestering adults for food.  It’s an odd sight as some of these juveniles appear just as large as the parent.

The whiner’s mother is of course ignoring it and pretending it’s someone else’s offspring that’s waking up the entire neighborhood.

What’s a parent to do, especially with a child that should be old enough to fend for itself?

‘Feed the brat!!’ the cormorant suggests. But is that really the best solution?

Don’t give in to whining.  Giving in teaches a child that whining is the sort of behaviour and tone of voice that will generate a result.

~  Jo Frost aka Supernanny

Okay, so you don’t give in.  But surely there has to be a way to make it stop.  Late last week I came across the carcass of a juvenile gull along the trail.  Did the eagles take matters into their own hands talons that day?

Who knows?  Unfortunately, what goes on in the marsh stays in the marsh.  The cormorants certainly weren’t disclosing anything on that story.

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Avian Pox

The first time you see a bird ravaged by avian pox, it’s a bit disconcerting.  Accustomed to seeing pretty, fluffy-feathered birds at your feeders and birdbaths, one that looks more like a vulture than a songbird easily stands out from the rest.

Over the years I’ve frequently caught a  glimpse of blue jays afflicted with avian pox, but until this year, never managed to be quick enough to capture a photo.  They do tend to keep a low profile and seem more reticent than healthy birds.  The one at left was by itself, which is odd for blue jays, as they usually make the feeder rounds in pairs or small flocks.

Afflicted birds have no feathers on their heads.  Some may have nodules around their beaks, eyes and feet.  These may interfere with sight, breathing and eating.  Not only do these poor birds look miserable, they probably feel that way too.

A healthy blue jay visiting the same birdbath.

Avian pox can be transmitted from one bird to another directly or indirectly wherever birds share surfaces, such as birdbaths, feeders and tree branches.  Mosquitoes are also known to play a role in the transmission.  Once a bird survives a bout of avian pox, it acquires immunity for life and is no longer a carrier.

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‘We’ve been expecting you,’ the salt marsh sentinel announces from his roost at the top of the spruce.  It’s the first time I’ve seen great blue herons perched high on the treetops.   Though it all looks like business-as-usual in the marsh, there are always wonders waiting to be discovered.   It’s good to be back. 

‘We heard you’d been combing the beaches looking for us,’ the sea stars say collectively.  ‘We thought if we gathered together in one spot, you’d know how much we missed you and you missed us.  Why did it take so long for you to seek us here?’  

‘It’s a long story,’ I tell them, ‘one with lots of drama that didn’t involve me but nevertheless took a toll on my days.  Children suddenly needed me and caring for them took all of my energy.’

 ‘Tell me about it,’ another heron adds.  ‘We know what it takes to rear the next generation in an environment that seems more and more out of our control.’

‘I knew you’d understand,’ I tell them.  

A kingfisher ‘s compact body finds a stable position at the end of a dried twig.  I marvel at how expertly birds keep their bodies and lives in balance.  

In spring and summer their focus is on ensuring that the young ones survive to maturity.  No hardship or sacrifice seems too great as they provide sustenance and safety to the next generation.  But then, after giving their all for a season, they quietly revert back to concerns for their own well-being.    Could it be because they carry no burdens in their hearts that they are light enough to fly such long distances to warmer climes?

Thank you to all who sent emails or left kind comments asking where I was over the past few months.  It is good to be back :)


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